The Human Rights Council – Highlighted Outcomes of the 33rd Session

by | Oct 22, 2016

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About Gosia Pearson

Dr Gosia Pearson is a policy advisor on humanitarian aid in the European Commission. She is also a research associate in the Law Faculty at Oxford University (


Gosia Pearson, “The Human Rights Council – Highlighted outcomes of the 33rd session”, (OxHRH Blog, 22 October 2016), <>, [Date of Access].

The three intensive weeks of the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) concluded on 30 September 2016. They resulted in thirty resolutions, a Presidential statement, and the appointment of five mandate holders. While many issues tackled at the sessions were recurrent items previously discussed at the forum, several outcomes stand out.

The HRC set up a commission of inquiry for Burundi to investigate human rights violations, identify alleged perpetrators, and propose recommendations to ensure their full accountability. This is an important development given the dire human rights situation on the ground and a general sense of impunity in the country, as repeatedly confirmed by the recommendations of the UN group of independent experts. In order for the commission to successfully carry out its one-year mandate, it is essential that: 1) the Burundi government fully cooperates with the commission, especially as a current HRC member; 2) the East-African Community and the African Union further lend their support to intra-Burundi dialogue; and 3) the international community continue to provide assistance for peace and stabilization, promotion of human rights, and sustainable development.

The Council also appointed the first Special Rapporteur on the right to development, who will contribute to the promotion, protection, and fulfillment of the right to development. While a coherent and integrated implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is crucial to attaining its objectives, it is questionable whether the creation of yet another mechanism would be beneficial in this regard. Instead, the new international mechanism may duplicate ongoing efforts, leading to increased inefficiencies. Firstly, states have the primary responsibility to ensure that the right to development is guaranteed. Secondly, many of the UN thematic mandates already cover elements of the right to development, for example, the Special Rapporteurs on the right to education, the right to food, or on extreme poverty and human rights. Thirdly, the HRC itself has been extensively covering the right to development, including through the work of a dedicated Working Group on the Right to Development.

The HRC also adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of 14 countries, paving the way to the last session of the second UPR cycle, the end of which will mark the tenth anniversary of the mechanism later this year. Since its creation a decade ago, it has in many cases served as a tool to address human rights situations, increase accountability for human rights violations, and enhance civil society engagement in UN-led processes. Nevertheless, the real value of the UPR rests in the effective implementation of the recommendations accepted by the state under review. This requires further improvements, including through dedicated national mechanisms for follow-up, national action plans, and mid-term implementation assessments, and clearer reporting to HRC.

Earlier this year, the Council celebrated its tenth anniversary. Over this time, it has established itself as a prime forum for discussing human rights, taking forward numerous thematic initiatives and putting specific country situations under the spotlight. It is important that for the next decade, the HRC also pays more attention to early warnings and prevention of human rights abuses; sufficiently delivers on protection for victims of human rights violations; and focuses on the fight against impunity.

Note: All views expressed in this post are solely those of the author.

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